Short story XI

The loch stretched out in front of the carpenter, surrounded by hills on either side. The setting sun painted it gold, even more so now that the wind had died down. The eastfacing slopes of the hills were hidden in shadow, as he walked down the last few hundred yards of the track. A few houses, that was all the settlement comprised of. The people had sent for him to make repairs to their abodes, after a month of storms. It was not his first time to Luachair, in fact it had been there that he had met his wife. He smiled as he remembered their final embrace, earlier that day, as they parted company for a day or two. Tomorrow, he would be working on the houses and the day after, he would retrace his steps the dozen miles or so across the hills to Bogha Ghlas. The sun dipped behind the horizon as he stepped through the door of his father-in-law's house. A roaring fire and a pan of stew over it awaited him, as did the equally warm welcome of his relatives.

Shadows lengthened over the hamlet of Bogha Ghlas, as night stretched its velvet fingers from across Loch Seaforth. A little later, the lights in one of the cottages were extinguished for the end of the day, the mountains across the water having dissolved into darkness. No further sound was to be heard from the cottage. Not that night. Nor the next.

"Now, that should stop that roof from leaking", the carpenter said to his father-in-law. "I wasn't surprised that things had started to shift, what with all those storms." The older man nodded. "I wonder if you could come out with me in the boat this afternoon", he continued. "Catch some fish down the loch, and you could join us for supper again tonight. It's now too late return?" The carpenter agreed. "I told her that I'd be back in two days, so I'll be quite happy to come along". Not long after, the wee boat was bobbing on the waters of the loch, a couple of miles to the west. The southeasterly breeze had driven them a bit further down Loch Reasort than usual, but the older man had reassured the carpenter that it would soon veer southwest, and they could tack for home. What he did not realise was that the windshift would also herald a very sudden shift in weather.

Dark clouds raced up from the Atlantic and fell over the precipice of Taran Mor into Loch Reasort, past Lamadail and into the bay of Diriscal. The southeasterly wind veered sharply southwest and rose a rapid crescendo to galeforce. The small craft was tacking round to return to Luachair, a few miles to the east, but it proved impossible to lower the sail before it pulled the boat over. Hidden by the bluff to the east of their village, the people in the houses of Diriscal did not see what was happening out in the loch. The light had become quite dull, and squalls of heavy rain limited visibility.

The family in one of the cottages at Dirascal was commenting on the bad squall that had struck earlier that afternoon, when there was a knock at the door. An older man, clothing soaked, held on to the boulders that made up the blackhouse. "Help", he rasped. "My boat overturned in the loch. My son-in-law..." and he broke down. The family helped him inside, put a blanket round his shoulder and sat him close to the fire. Others rushed down to the shore, where they found another man, lying face down and motionless. He too was carried into the house, but the spirits of life had already departed his sodden frame. Wracked by sobs, the old man managed to tell the story of their disastrous fishing trip. Darkness had by now fallen, and conditions were deemed to be too severe to venture the two mile trip over the hill to Luachair. That night, lights remained on in that house. They never come on in the cottage at Bogha Ghlas.

"Take his planks with you." The words echoed in the mind of the carpenter's brother-in-law, at midday the next day. "I can't begin to imagine how my sister is going to take this", the man was thinking. His footsteps on the rough track came regularly, but what was that strange echo? Intermittent echoes of the footfalls? No, couldn't be. A double take on each footstep? Not either. Tap tap. Tap tap. The man shifted the planks on his shoulder to adjust for balance and continued. The dark face of Stulabhal reared up ever closer, and he thought the tapping sound was an echo of his footsteps from that great rockface. He had not experienced that before, having made the journey many times before. But his mind was in such turmoil that he could not remember that. The great empty valley of Langadale stretched before him, but his descent to the river, nor the crossing, nor the ascent to Vigadale remained with him. All he heard was tap-tap, tap-tap.

The sun was once more setting by the time the carpenter's brother-in-law reached the bridge at Bogha Ghlas. He saw his sister's cottage ahead, but there was no light inside, nor any sign of motion outside. The approach of any passer-by was usually sufficient to bring his sister outside, but not that day. The 'tap-tap' that had been haunting the man since leaving Luachair had gradually ceased. He threw the planks off his shoulder, and they fell to the ground in a loudly clattering heap. He called for his sister, but heard nothing. Opening the door, the cottage was dark, the fire cold. The bed was occupied, but there was not a living soul about.

Tap tap. Tap tap. The next morning, the carpenter's brother-in-law was hammering a coffin for his sister. And he suddenly remembered what the noise was he had been hearing all the way from Luachair the day before. Tap tap. Tap tap. The noise of his hammer, building a coffin. The noise of the carpenter's hammer, over in Luachair, as it too built a coffin for its master.

1 comment:

  1. That is great Guido...Thank so much for sending it to me.....